Psychologists often divide life goals into eight major categories: economic, aesthetic, social, relationship, political, hedonistic, religious, and educational.
What is the best predictor of these eight life goals? New research appearing in the Journal of Research in Personality suggests that job interests are a better predictor than the Big Five personality traits.
“Life goals reflect people’s aspirations of what they want to become and what kind of life they want to live,” state the researchers, led by Gundula Stoll of the University of Tubingen in Germany. “By demonstrating that vocational interests are more suitable than Big Five personality traits to explain major life goals in various value domains, our research contributes to a better understanding of vocational interests as important aspects of individual differences.”
To arrive at this conclusion, the researchers designed an experiment to compare the determinants of life goals. Although the math was complicated, the premise was simple: have people rate themselves on three scales — one measuring life goals, another measuring vocational interests, and a third measuring the Big Five personality traits — to see which questions and measures had the most in common.
Three-hundred and eighty-five participants from the United States were asked to rate the importance of the following eight life goal categories.
- Economic — The goal to obtain a prestigious career and a high standard of wealth and living.
- Aesthetic — The goal to create artistic work or to become accomplished in the arts or music.
- Social — The goal to help others and to promote the well-being those who are less fortunate.
- Relationship — The goal to have a family and to have close and harmonious relationships with other people.
- Political — The goal to be influential in public affairs and to become, for instance, a community organizer or leader.
- Hedonistic — The goal to live a fun and an exciting lifestyle.
- Religious — The goal to participate in religion and maintain a spiritual life.
- Educational — The goal to get good grades and to obtain, for example, a high school or university degree.
Next, they were asked to complete a series of questions that measured the Big Five personality traits, listed below.
- Neuroticism — The tendency to experience emotions such as anger, worry, and sadness and the tendency to be sensitive in interpersonal settings.
- Extraversion — The tendency to be highly sociable and enjoy the company of others. Also, the tendency to exhibit a dominant style.
- Openness — The tendency to believe in and appreciate new ideas, behaviors, and values.
- Agreeableness — The tendency to go along with what others are saying rather than to assert one’s own opinions and decisions.
- Conscientiousness — The tendency to be careful, cautious, on time for meetings, to follow rules, and to be a hard worker.
Finally, participants were asked to complete a series of scales that measured the following six vocational interest categories.
- Realistic — A preference for the manipulation of objects, tools, animals, and machines.
- Investigative — A preference for the creative yet systematic investigation of physical, biological, and cultural phenomena.
- Artistic — A preference for the manipulation of verbal, physical, or human materials for the purpose of creating works of art.
- Social — A preference to inform, train, develop, cure, enlighten, or influence others.
- Enterprising — A preference to influence others in pursuit of organizational goals or economic gain.
- Conventional — A preference for the ordered and systematic manipulation of data.
The researchers found that vocational interests were approximately twice as predictive of life goals than the Big Five personality traits. Furthermore, the life goal categories that were especially well predicted by vocational interests were: Aesthetic, Social, Economic, and Political.
And, there were only three life goal categories that were better predicted by the Big Five personality traits: Relationship, Hedonistic, and Educational.
The authors suggest this research is relevant to organizations looking to improve their human resource management processes. They write, “The present results imply that organizations can use vocational interests when assessing individuals for their fit within specific features or roles (e.g., as a team focused on a specific task). In this way, organizations and institutions can increase the effectiveness of their assessments for recruitment, selection, and attrition.”